National Press Club names Eskom as Newsmaker of the Year
The annual award, made by the National Press Club since 1980, awards a newsmaker in a calendar year based on the amount of media coverage received, as well as the impact thereof.
Nominations and motivations are received from members of the National Press Club and a final decision is made by the executive committee of the club.
The National Press Club is the largest club of its kind in South Africa, representing working journalists.
“The newsmaker award is neither an accolade, nor is it criticism - it represents the dominant themes of the 2019 news cycle,” chairperson Ntando Makhubu said.
During 2019, South Africa was subjected to unprecedented levels of load shedding that resulted in uncertainty whether the power utility’s leadership would be able to turn the ship around.
Speculation was rife of unhealthy political interference and leadership changes followed that have not only gripped the country's attention, but also undermined investor confidence.
“The decision to name Eskom as the newsmaker was an easy one as there is no denying the fact that the power utility’s inability to keep the lights on, has negatively impacted both the small and big businesses which has resulted in more retrenchments in an already ailing economy,” says Makhubu.
The public frustration on the power utility’s inability to ensure power security dominated not only traditional news channels but also online and social media platforms.
When the Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan took over with the promise of being more hands-on at Eskom, the public had high hopes that Eskom would be stabilised.
However, what followed was the resignation of Phakamani Hadebe from his role as the group chief executive after a short stint, and allegations from one of the board members at Parliament that political interference prevented load shedding for at least eight months. Gordhan denied that and went on to present his unbundling plan which was met with mixed reactions from various sectors of society and the business community.
The term of Jabu Mabuza, who double-hatted as both the chairman of the Eskom board and the acting chief executive, was not without controversy with allegations of conflict of interest due to links with service providers.
He subsequently resigned from all his Eskom roles early this year for failing to keep the lights on despite President Cyril Ramaphosa having assured the country that there would be no load shedding until the middle of January.
While all of this instability continues to affect all stakeholders, the public interest in alternative sources of power supply grows daily.
The public further demands accountability and consequence management as Eskom continues to apply for more financial bailouts from the government and an increase in tariffs.
“All eyes are on Andre de Ruyter as he takes over the reins at Eskom. He has started possibly the toughest job in the country, with earnings that are far exceeded by the cost of its debt repayments. There is a huge expectation on him to turn the power utility around in terms of keeping the lights on, while also managing the operational costs,” Makhubu said.
Makhubu also said a special mention should be given to the Springbok rugby team, a strong contender for the 2019 Newsmaker of the Year.
The annual Newsmaker of the Year function is expected to take place in Pretoria in April. Staff Reporter